Gun store's security system malfunctions after meter replacement

Owner claims meter installation damaged cameras, alarm

The owner of a gun store says his business's surveillance cameras and alarm system abruptly stopped working at the same time contractors working on behalf of Duke Energy replaced the building's...

DELTONA, Fla. – The owner of a gun store says his business' surveillance cameras and alarm system abruptly stopped working at the same time contractors working on behalf of Duke Energy replaced the building's electric meter.

"I've got over 300 handguns and probably another 100 rifles and thousands of bullets," said Sady Garcia, who has operated Deltona Gun Exchange for nearly a decade. "I don't want those things in people's hands who are not supposed to have them."

Garcia has sought compensation from both Duke Energy and its contractor, Scope Services Inc., but both companies have refused to take responsibility for the reported damage.

"I figured, being a gun shop, they would turn around and help me and pay me so I can get my system up and running immediately," Garcia said. "But it seems like Duke and Scope don't care."

Garcia told News 6 he recently spent more than $4,000 to replace the surveillance cameras and alarm system at his own expense.

But for more than a month, the gun store was unprotected, he said.

"I was scared," Garcia said. "For two days I stayed here, sleeping in the shop."

On Sept. 11, while in the process of selling a firearm to a customer, Garcia said the power at his business began to rapidly flicker.

"We're doing the background check when suddenly the computers, the lights started to turn off and on," he said.

When Garcia stepped outside, he said he saw a truck with Duke Energy logos parked in his lot and two men doing work near the meter.

"They never came inside the shop to tell me I had to shut everything down," Garcia said. "I asked them their names. They said they didn't have to give me their names."

Garcia later learned the men worked for Scope Services, a contractor hired by Duke Energy to replace older meters with so-called "smart" meters.

"When I confronted them, they said they were having problems pulling the meter out," Garcia said.

The property owner said he soon discovered the alarm systems protecting his gun store and a collectibles shop in the same building had been damaged.

Also, several surveillance cameras mounted inside and outside the building could no longer be viewed on a monitor, he said.

"Nothing works whatsoever," Garcia said. "The cameras I had, you could actually see the people perfect.  And now I have nothing."

Garcia said a mini refrigerator at the store also stopped working that day, but several computers inside the business were not damaged.

Garcia said he contacted Duke Energy seeking funds to replace the security system but was informed that Scope Services would handle such claims.

"Most of Duke Energy’s smart meter exchanges are conducted by contractors. As such, damage claims associated with installations are the responsibility of the contractor who performed the work at issue," a Duke Energy spokesperson told News 6.

According to Garcia, a Scope Services employee visited his gun store about a week after he reported the problem.

It was the only time anyone examined his security system, he said.

"He checked everything. He took pictures of everything. And he said, 'You're right. Everything is damaged.  They are going to have to pay,'" Garcia said.

A Scope Services executive would not confirm or deny Garcia's account of that conversation, nor would the company explain why it later decided to deny the gun store owner's claim.

"We have investigated it at length and determined Scope is not responsible for the damage," Human Resources Vice President Trish Meller said.

A Duke Energy spokesperson provided addition information on behalf of their utility's contractor.

"We understand from Scope Services that Scope Services denies any responsibility for any pre-existing state, age or condition of equipment before or after the meter exchange," Duke Energy spokesperson Peveeta Persaud said. "It is our understanding from Scope Services that during the installation process, photos are taken of the meter box to identify any potential issues, which, according to Scope Services, all appeared normal." 

Garcia insisted he cooperated with Scope Services' requests for information and provided News 6 with an email showing he forwarded the company a copy of an invoice showing the security system's replacement cost.

A Duke Energy spokesperson said power to a customer's property is briefly turned off when a meter is replaced.

In rare cases, older electronic equipment can be damaged whenever power is restored to a customer, according the spokesperson.

Garcia's security system was purchased a little more than a year prior to the meter replacement, according to an invoice he provided News 6.

Since the contractor will not compensate him, the gun store owner believes Duke Energy should investigate the matter further. He said he welcomes a third-party inspection of the damaged security equipment.

"I told Duke, 'Look, you guys sent them. You guys are responsible. I don't care if it’s a contractor. You are responsible,'" he said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.